This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

DEA scores extradition victory

The DEA successfully extradited the first Colombian drug trafficker from Sierra Leon, a country considered to be at the top of the list of West African countries where Colombians, Venezuelans, and others are deeply involved in moving drugs from South America into Europe.

You don't know who Geraldo Quintana Pérez is because he did a good job keeping a low profile, at least for a while. (picture shows his plane and load of coke.)

He arrived in Sierra Leon about two years ago, but when he made an unauthorized landing in Freetown, Sierra Leon on 13 July, 2008, it was his last.

His plane had left Venezuela, making stops in Trinidad and Tobago, Grenada, Barbados, and Santa Lucia before flying across the Atlantic to Sierra Leon.

He, along with his partner, was busted with 600 kilos of coke (worth about 125 million Euros), and two rifles, an AK-47, and an AK-48

From the DEA press release:

QUINTANA-PEREZ, 51, and PEREZ, 30, were arrested in Freetown, Sierra Leone on July 13, 2008 on Sierra Leonean charges, following the seizure of approximately 600 kilograms of cocaine. Upon their arrest in Sierra Leone, the defendants were tried there on drug trafficking charges, of which they were convicted on April 20, 2009. Thereafter, the Government of Sierra Leone transferred the defendants to American custody.

More details here, in Spanish.


Now, will we see any extraditions from Guinea-Bissau?

El Goyo captured

Arrests and seizures in Mexico are part of my daily news diet, but when police capture an old-school member of the Gulf Cartel, it's something I have to post.

Gregiorio Sauceda Gamboa, aka "El Goyo," was an original member of the Gulf Cartel as it was molded under the leadership of Osiel Cardenas, dating back to 1996 (pictured in the middle).

He was a heavy hitter, often asked to perform some of the more risky assignments hunting down members of the El Chapo's organization for kidnap, torture, and murder. This guy was a former investigative police officer, and likely had close contacts with many police in Tamaulipas, where he was arrested in Matamoros, with his wife, while sitting in a stash house stocked with thousands of rounds of ammunition, a number of long guns, and a M72A3 rocket launcher.

At different times in his narco career, El Goyo ran operations in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and Matamoros.

According to a Houston Chronicle article, El Goyo moved an averaged 10 tons of cocaine and 30 tons of marijuana a month at the height of his drug trafficking activity, although recently, he's been "less" involved.

He'll probably be extradited to the US, and we'll never hear from him again.

FARC kills eight soldiers

When I see news about the FARC killing eight soldiers in Colombia, near the Venezuelan border, I'm reminded that there is still some fight in this old revolutionary dog.

The Colombian government argues that the FARC is on the decline, with high desertion rates, and a declining revenue base.

And it's true. The FARC today is not what it was five years ago, or three years ago. I think we're looking at the "middle of the end" for the FARC.

But I have to consider the possibility that the FARC has, for years now, made concerted efforts to move beyond Colombian borders into Venezuela and Ecuador. Some time ago, we prepared a piece on the FARC's presence outside of Colombia.
Venezuela is certainly a welcoming environment.

Given the country's well established role as a drug transit zone, and the ongoing allegations that at least a section of the Venezuelan National Guard is a drug smuggling organization (called the Sun Cartel by DEA agents in Venezuela before they got kicked out the first time), it is certainly a great place to operate compared to Colombia.

In Ecuador, the president is not a vocal supporter, but he is willing to look the other way, and allow the FARC to operate just inside Ecuador. Even if he isn't willing to let the FARC play on Ecuadorian soil, Correa has limited political currency, and I'm not sure he wants to spend it on making a loud and expensive campaign against the FARC.

Back to those eight soldiers.
They fell under attack from the 49th front of the FARC, according to La Semana. The 49th front is known to operate on both sides of the border between Venezuela and Colombia. It is also considered the Caribbean front of the FARC, operating around the Guajira peninsula.

It will be interesting to see if Chavez answers Uribe's call to hunt down these FARC soldiers. I doubt it.

(image from

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Illegal refineries in Colombia

The Latin American Herald Tribune has reported that Colombian police and army troops found and destroyed two refineries used by the FARC to process stolen oil.

This story caught my eye because I've never heard of the FARC using oil refineries, but it's certainly something that makes sense.

The refineries could produce up to 11 gallons of fuel an hour, and were reportedly under the control of the 29th Front.

Authorities seized 1,849 gallons of fuel and 11 steel drums, each able to hold about a barrel of crude oil.

These illegal refineries were found in the Nariño department, on the border with Ecuador.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Most Dangerous Cities in the US

Just a quick note here to share the "Most Dangerous Cities" article, which made note that ten cities on the list overlap with Mexican organized criminal activity:

Though nationwide crime was down 3.5% year over year in the first six months of 2008, the cities atop our list illustrate a disturbing trend: All 10 of the most dangerous cities were among those identified by the Department of Justice as transit points for Mexican drug cartels.

The whole article is here.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

That .50 cal anti-aircraft weapon

I just came across an article here, that breaks down some of the curious details surrounding the seizure of a anti-aircraft machine gun found mounted in the bed of a pick up truck.

Here's the more relevant section:

One of the most worrisome weapons yet was seized this week just south of Nogales, Ariz.: a powerful gun mounted on the back of an SUV and protected by a thick metal shield. Police said it belonged to one of the Beltran Leyva drug gangs.

Mexican and U.S. authorities disagree on just what type of gun it was. Federal police coordinator Gen. Rodolfo Cruz maintains it was .50-caliber anti-air craft machine gun. ATF, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said it was an unmodified .50-caliber semiautomatic rifle made by TNW, a U.S. firearms manufacturer.

ATF investigators traced the gun - along with seven others seized at a house in Sonora state on Monday - to suppliers in the United States, said Bill Newell, special agent in charge of the ATF in Arizona and New Mexico.

While crudely built, the truck-mounted rifle would give traffickers a powerful advantage against lightly armed police, Newell said: A gunman could protect a whole convoy with sweeping fire while protected by the metal shield.

"Imagine being a two- or three-man police team at a rural checkpoint and these guys roll up with this thing," Newell said. "You'd be slightly intimidated, wouldn't you?"

Background checks on politicians

Ahead of the upcoming 5 July legislative elections for all 500 seats of Mexico's lower house (as well as some gubernatorial seats), the PRD, has publicly asked the Attorney General's office (PGR) to complete background checks on all PRD candidates to ensure that they have no ties to organized crime.

The PRD has also asked the PGR to conduct background checks on PAN and PRI candidates as well.

This is a bold move, considering it's quite possible the PGR fingers some PRD members for ties to org. crime.

What's more interesting is that the PRI, arguably the party best positioned to gain some seats, is also the party most likely to have compromised politicians on the ticket, especially in the lower house.

The PAN, President Calderon's party, is in trouble, as many people are tired of the violence, and there's a growing momentum in Mexico of columnists, academics, thinkers, etc, who suspect the PAN will lose big in the upcoming elections.

But if the PGR takes up the PRD on its offer, then we're in for an interesting election cycle.

Finally, it's worth mention that many of us who think about ties between org. crime and politicians in Mexico would agree that org. crime focuses more on bribing state level politicians, from the governor down, and normally leaves the federal stuff alone - with the exception of killing federal level law enforcement officials from time to time.

So if the PGR does choose to investigate all candidates, it will be interesting to see who gets caught and who gets elected. Either way, I suspect Calderon will not like the outcome.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Houston gun smuggling case

This graphic from today's New York Times. (click for larger image). Here is the story.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Money Laundering in Brazil and Switzerland

A federal judge in Sao Paulo recently sent a letter to the United Nations and the Financial Action Task Force on Money Laundering to accuse Switzerland of violating a UN international convention because the Swiss government refused to inform a Credit Suisse employee that he had been subpoenaed to testify in Brazil.

The employee in question, Thomas Ulhmann, had been indicted in a criminal case in Brazil, accused of participating in a scheme that allowed Brazilians to open Credit Suisse bank accounts to launder money.

Switzerland does not have a bilateral money laundering agreement with Brazil, which forced the judge to arrange the subpoena through the 2003 Palermo Convention, signed by both countries, whereby both countries in theory should cooperate on matters related to money laundering.

Switzerland continues to snub the Brazilian judge, saying that Ulhmann did not violate Swiss laws.

This exchange has gone on amidst the larger debate over Switzerland's role in global money laundering practices. Switzerland has been included on the OECD and G-20 lists of "fiscal paradises." In response to this accusation, Switzerland has frozen all contributions to the OECD.

Finally, according to the BBC, some 70% of Brazilian overseas investments go to fiscal paradises. In 2008, some US$104 billion in Brazilian investments was placed abroad, with 50% of that money placed in Bahamas and the Caymans.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Why doesn't anyone worry about Guatemala?

I don't spend much time reading the Guatemala Times, but I have to admit, they did a great job on making a list of interesting and perhaps important events related to the country's on going security crisis. You can find it here.

Here's more:

The Southern Pulse network (now with its database and new website finally in beta testing) has learned that one in four immigrants crossing from Guatemala to Mexico are stopped, detained, and deported.
Simply put, the Mexico/Guatemala border is less patrolled and much, much less secure that the US/Mexico border.

Couple that fact with the fact that Ecuador, Nicaragua, and now Honduras have all relaxed visa requirements for a number of countries, including China, Iran, and Russia (see? some diplomacy has paid off for these international "bad boys"), and you've got basically an open sieve into Mexico from just about every sketchy country in the world...

Enter Alvaro Colom, the embattled president of Guatemala (pictured above, thanks Guat. Times).

He's a chain smoker, runs around with a 12-man security detail, and recently dealt with a scandal that blew up when he discovered that his chief of intelligence had bugged his bedroom, living room, and office - only to turn around and sell the intel to Mexican organized crime.
Alvaro Colom's political party is littered with old school organized criminal elements who are in bed with Mexican organized crime, and his police are just as corrupt as the guys in Mexico.

More detail here and here.

Now, consider Colom's limited budget, limited number of trusted personnel, and double-dish security issues with both organized criminals and street gangsters running amock.

What will happen if Calderon manages to put too much heat on the DTOs in Mexico?

As we've already seen, there is a clear and well documented spillover, and not north but south.
Guatemala is today a serious issue, and if there is any state in the Americas that is close to failure, it is Guatemala, not Mexico. Why doesn't the US government see this?

Why doesn't mainstream media talk about it? Probably because its too far away from US borders. The truth is, however, that if Guatemala becomes a failed state, both Mexico and the US will suffer. I sincerely hope it does not come to that.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Weekend News Review - FARC, Customs corruption, and grenades

1) Colombian President Alvaro Uribe said that if the FARC keeps quiet and avoids any skirmishes with anyone for "three or four" months, then he will consider peace talks.

Up until now, Uribe has been staunchly against talking to the FARC. History has shown that the FARC is not always the most honest negotiators. But that was when the rebel army was much stronger. In its weakened state, peace might not be a bad idea.

Semana article here.

2) One of the conclusions of the 20th annual meeting of Interpol (held in Chile this year) was that Al-Qaeda (or any terrorist organization, really) could infiltrate Latin America because of lenient or in some cases (Ecuador and Nicaragua) non-existent immigration controls.

Of the 150 million or so annual visits to Latin America from other countries around the world, only 50 million passports are scanned, according to Ronald Noble, Interpol Secretary General.

Interpol is specifically worried about Central America.

3) Texas authorities seized some $120,000, gun parts, and "grenades" from a car headed south on Interstate-35, according to the San Antonio News.

Obviously the grenades are interesting. My sources mostly agree that grenades used in Mexico come from Guatemala. To sell grenades in the US, a merchant must operate a class two license, I believe, which is a very strict legal regime.

The article notes these grenades are "improvised".

4) A 34 year-old Customs agent was arrested this past Friday (April, 3rd) on charges that he arranged to "wave immigrant and drug smugglers through his inspection booth for money." If convicted he could serve up to 35 years in prison - ouch!

As a Sheriff in southern Arizona recently told me, this is a "sin of omission." To break the law, these men don't actually do anything. It's what they don't do - i.e. stop a car stuffed with coke - that breaks the law. To wave the right car and receive thousands a week for doing so, with little chance of apprehension, so long you don't flash the money or act out, is a tough thing to turn down. I often wonder about this kind of "soft" corruption, and whether or not the border is littered with these guys...

5) Not surprisingly, Chihuahua State Governor, Jose Reyes Baeza, was attacked on 22 February. One of his bodyguards was killed during the attack, and two were wounded. Two of the men allegedly responsible were arrested in the city of Chihuahua on 31 March. They were caught with AR-15 rifles stolen from the wounded bodyguards.

This news only came out in English on 5 April... That in itself is interesting.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Bad Deal for ATF

Why then did the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement receive US$130 million to combat gun smuggling in a Senate bill designed to give a cash injection to security efforts on the border when the ATF only received US$50 million?

I'd like to meet the Staffer who came up with these numbers.

The agency that has the most expertise when it comes to investigating illegal weapons transfers from the white to the black market in the United States is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms.

Here's a breakdown (press release here):

* $130 million to Immigration and Customs Enforcement for 350 full time investigators to work on firearm trafficking and money laundering investigations;

* $20 million for DHS to improve the tactical communications in the field for CBP and ICE;

* $20 million for CBP to modernize its database used to identify potential criminals at the ports of entry;

* $30 million for Operation Stonegarden to reimburse state and local law enforcement for their participation in border actions;

* $50 million to the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agency to hire an additional 150 investigators and 50 inspectors to investigate firearms trafficking at the Mexican border;

* $10 million to provide assistance and equipment to local law enforcement along the Southern border and in the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas to combat criminal narcotics activity;

* $20 million for the Human Smuggling and Trafficking Center at DHS to better coordinate investigations between federal, state, and local law enforcement;

* $10 million for DHS’ Office of International Affairs and the Undersecretary for Management to oversee implementation of the Merida Initiative and to increase its staffing at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

Also, I see no provision to help the local sheriffs, or any wording that specifies that the federal government will work with local knowledge.

The ATF does receive some 200 new agents, but it will be at least 18 months before these agents are able to effectively contribute.

The ATF guys I know who work on the border will surely be happy to receive some funding, but they're likely to feel at least a little perturbed by what is clearly a Senate move to push Homeland Security onto their turf.

Chavez attacking his opposition

On the first day of April, officials from Venezuela's Military Intelligence Division (DIM) arrived at the house of former Defense Minister Raul Isaias Baduel. They said they had a warrant, but never showed the papers.

When Baduel resisted, the men drew arms and forced him into their awaiting car under duress.

Baduel's lawyer is worried that he may be killed while in custody.

As you may recall, Baduel made a very public split from Chavez ahead of the November 2007 Constitutional referendum. One story on Chavez's defeat and Baduel's role is here.

A piece I wrote at the time is here.

In other news, another leader in the Venezuelan opposition, former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales, went into hiding on 31 March as word of investigation into corruption swirled in Venezuelan national media.

A Reuters story is here.

Bottom line, Chavez is worried. He's targeting the most powerful members of Venezuela's traditional opposition ahead of the next round of elections.

Finally, I'll add that a new opposition party has emerged in Venezuela. As reported by Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence on 24 March, the National Assembly in Defense of Popular Power held its first party meeting on 23 March in Caracas. The name suggests that this party will go after winning votes from the poor Venezuelans who have become disillusioned with Chavez.
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